There are a few perks that go along with being a writer. For one, the research is fun–at least I think so. Research helps a writer make a story come alive by adding in details that give the author credibility. Getting the details wrong can destroy it. There is a phenomenon called the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. When a reader sits down to read a piece of fiction, they know it is just that, fiction. They know the action and events are not actually taking place at that exact moment. They know the characters are not real. But the reader unconsciously and willingly suspends their disbelief in order to be lured into the book. Getting the details right can either pull the reader in or yank them out.
I learned this lesson when I was in high school taking a creative writing class. Our final for the class was to write a short story about an episode we had never experienced. Then we had to have someone read the story that had experienced a similar event. Our final grade would be based on how well the reader thought we had captured that moment.
At the time, I lived in St. Louis. I worshiped the St. Louis Baseball Cardinals. For most teenage girls, their heartthrobs are movie stars, TV personalities, or rock stars. Mine were baseball players. I faithfully watched the games or listened to them on the radio. The coaches at my high school often would ask me trivia questions about the Cardinals knowing that I was a walking encyclopedia of player stats and bios. I even lettered in high school baseball as the team’s statistician.
So I wrote a short story about being a Cardinals rookie at his first big league at bat. I researched extensively, read everything I could get my hands on – newspaper interviews with coaches and players, biographies of ballplayers, and magazine articles. (This was before the Internet.) I even interviewed my Driver’s Ed teacher, who had once played catcher for the Cincinnati Reds. I could’ve stopped there, but I also wrote the Cardinals and asked if one their players would read my short story to critique it.
Not a single solitary person at my high school or in my family believed I’d get that interview. So they were shocked when the Cardinals’ front office called the school to confirm the assignment then granted me the interview. The Cardinals arranged for me to meet not one, but two players. The first was nearing retirement and already a legend, the great Lou Brock. The other was a rookie, Keith Hernandez. Keith would later be traded to the New York Mets and win multiple Gold Gloves as their first baseman. The only part of the story Keith dinged me on, was that I let the rookie in my short story hit a home run during his first major league at bat. Nevertheless, I got an A- on the story.
Yeah, research is fun and in-person interviews are one of the perks of being a writer!